Microsoft launches new Surface 2, Surface Pro 2 tablets

There’s a new polish on Microsoft’s Surface.

The world’s largest software company unveiled the new Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2 -- as well as an innovative way to turn a tablet into a DJ's mixing booth -- at an event Monday in Manhattan, held at a location so far on the West Side of the city that it was practically underwater.

It's an apt metaphor for Microsoft itself, which sometimes feels a pace away from sinking beneath the waves itself as the company struggles to adapt to a world where personal computers, Microsoft’s bread and butter, have increasingly less relevance.

'This thing is a beast.'

— Panos Panay, a corporate vice president with Microsoft and the head of the Surface product division

Today’s American is all about smartphones and tablets, areas that Microsoft has tried unsuccessfully to move into.

The latest version of the company's flagship hardware product, a tablet that converts into a laptop with a kickstand and a slick keyboard-enabled cover, is Microsoft’s answer.

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“I want you to love this product,” said Panos Panay, a corporate vice president with Microsoft and the head of the Surface product division, at the product launch. “This thing is a beast.”

The new Surface Pro 2 physically looks almost identical to the earlier version of the tablet, a beautifully manufactured gadget that includes a few features to make it stick out from the crowd. A kickstand built into the back of the Surface lets the tablet prop itself up; the new version adds a second position to the stand to rest better on laps.

It also includes the new Haswell chip from Intel, which let the company increase battery life by 75 percent, a common complaint among owners of the first version. It also doubles the graphics power and improves processing power.

The other big innovation is the Touch covers, felt-like protective covers for the tablet that integrate keyboards, something that Microsoft says makes the Surface 2 stand out from the iPad. With a keyboard, the device is really a full-featured laptop -- indeed, the fastest laptop on the market, Panay said.

“It's the best selling product in its class … and the people who use it love it,” he said.

Microsoft plans to expand and amaze with additions to the Touch cover line. Called the Surface Remix Project, a new line of covers will be unveiled that add distinct features. At the Monday event, Panay showed off just one of them: a felt cover with buttons that resemble those on a mixing board.

It turns any Surface into a dedicated music creation station, letting you remix your favorite music and share it with the world.

But will these and other improvements be enough to turn around what has been a lackluster product for the software giant? Despite solid reviews, the first edition of the product failed to breakthrough in the market, due partly to a high price tag and partly due to consumer concerns surrounding Windows 8, the touch-centric new operating system from Microsoft.

The new Surface comes with Windows 8.1, which address some consumer complaints about the software, notably the lack of a Start button and the inconvenience of using the standard desktop interface.

Pre-orders for the new Surface tablets begin Sept. 24. The Surface 2 starts at $449, while the higher end Surface Pro 2 will start at $899 for a version with 64GB of RAM. The new Touch Cover 2 costs $119.99, while Type Cover 2, a version with more keyboard-like keys, will cost  $129.99.